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Once Mel Brooks began to “make a noise,” thankfully he never shut up

- May 19th, 2013

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There’s an apt evaluation in the first minute of the documentary Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.

Mel was not interested in the little laugh,” observes writer/director Barry Levinson.

He literally wanted you to collapse and fall on the ground and can’t breathe.”

If you think back to Mel Brooks‘ most famous movies, such as The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, History of the World, Part I and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, not to mention the classic TV show Get Smart, Levinson kind of nailed it, I think.

Mel Brooks never was particularly subtle. But his comedy was far from dumb. A lot of it was based upon history and philosophy.

He is truly an intellectual, which astonishes people,” says Joan Rivers.

That combination of grounded structural smarts and madcap comic stupidity is fully and lovingly chronicled in Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, which airs Monday, May 20 on most PBS affiliates as part of the American Masters series.

This expansive documentary features new interviews not only with Brooks and the afore-mentioned Levinson and Rivers, but also with the likes of Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Cloris Leachman, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Richard Lewis, David Lynch, Richard Benjamin and Tracey Ullman.

Others who unfortunately have passed away – including notable Brooks collaborators such as Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman – contribute to the doc not only with archival interviews, but also through the numerous clips from Brooks’ best-known and lesser known projects.

Brooks – real name Melvin Kaminsky – is 86 now. He obviously has outlived many of his contemporaries. But when you speak with Brooks today, he still can knock you over with his energy.

I’m not such a comedy giant,” Brooks told a room full of TV critics earlier this year. “I’m 5-foot-6.

There are guys not as funny, but they are bigger, and I think that counts.”

Brooks mostly stayed behind the scenes early in his career, allowing his ideas and concepts to be funneled through performers such as Sid Caesar.

Sid Caesar was so good,” Brooks says in the doc. “That (S.O.B.) held me back because of his Promethean talent. I could have been out front doing it, but never as funny and as incredibly moving as Sid Caesar.”

Brooks’ face became recognizable through his famous “2000 Year Old Man” comedy routine with Carl Reiner, which they performed everywhere, in live shows and on TV. And then as time went on, Brooks popped up on-screen in his own movies more and more, moving from bit parts to leading roles.

Well, it happened when Gene (Wilder) deserted me, I think it was Silent Movie,” Brooks told critics, recalling his 1976 film.

He got a part somewhere. He went overseas. He wasn’t available and I got the money and I was ready to do Silent Movie. And I said, ‘Well, nobody talks, so I could get away with this.”

While every comedy career has its early struggles and ups and downs, things certainly worked out for Mel Brooks. He is one of only 14 entertainers to have achieved the coveted “EGOT” (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards).

Being rather bizarre looking and being very short, I needed another tool so that I would be accepted,” Brooks says in the doc. “So I used comedy.”

Acceptance achieved, many times over.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

 

‘SNL’ season finale full of goodbyes

- May 19th, 2013

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As Stefon would say: This Saturday Night Live had everything.

Kanye West, Jennifer Garner, Anderson Cooper, a musical super group, a surprise guest appearance from Amy Poehler and what looks like the departure of not one, but three cast members.

Bill Hader made it official earlier this week, but apparently he isn’t the only one moving on: Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis appear to be leaving too.

With all the stars and farewells, tonight’s SNL season finale made it hard for even a multiple Oscar winner to carve out a place to shine.

At least host Ben Affleck knew he was being upstaged at every turn and had a good sense of humour about it.

Even when he introduced Kanye West for the rapper’s first performance of the show, he knew what everybody else was thinking.

“Ladies and the gentleman,” he said. “Here he is – the man you came to see. Kanye West.”

It was that kind of night.

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BEST GOODBYE: Bill Hader

Bill Hader’s departure from SNL means saying goodbye to everybody’s favourite “city correspondent” Stefon. He went out in style, with Seth Meyers leaving his Weekend Update chair to stop Stefon’s wedding to Anderson Cooper in front of a church filled with the club kid’s favourite nightlife characters like smurfs, midgets, a gremlin and of course, ALF.

GOODBYE TO FRED AND JASON TOO?:

The last sketch of the night was a performance by Fred Armisen’s punk alter-ego Ian Rubbish and his fictional band the Bizarros. The band (which included Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader) played what sounded like a sweet goodbye song called “It’s a Lovely Day” before being joined by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Aimee Mann, J Mascis, Michael Penn, The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. It’s a Lovely Day sure sounded like a swan song. Major cast changes ahead.

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BEST SKETCH: Bengo F—k Yourself

Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (played by Fred Armisen) gets back at Ben Affleck’s “Argo” by starring as the actor in his own movie “Bengo F—k Yourself”. Oddly enough, Affleck himself is involved with Ahmadinejad’s film as a sound man because he’s “longed to be in a movie worse than Gigli.”

WORST SKETCH: Prima Donna

A lazy depression era dirt bag would rather use his prostitute to hit people over the head with a brick than wake up at 8 AM to make an honest living. Even Ben Affleck’s Jimmy Stewart-style impression didn’t have enough charm to save this one.

BEST KANYE: No Kim K

Whatever you think of the Kanye’s new songs Black Skinhead and New Slave (the former a mix of hip hop and industrial beats, the latter an intense rant against consumer culture) he did it all without Kim Kardashian. Yes, there was no Kim K Kameo on SNL last night. Thank you for that, Mr. West!

WORST KANYE: N-word gets through

Maybe New Slave wasn’t the best choice for performing live? By my count, it has 11 N-words, 6 F-bombs and a refrain with the word ‘d—k’. Kanye made a valiant attempt to self-censor via substitution (using ‘prick’ instead of ‘d—k’) and mumbling some of the curses. It worked really well – until it didn’t. At least one of those N-words got through. Song is still hot, though.

BEST CAMEO: Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler stopped by to help Seth Meyers with his Really!?!: segment – and then stayed on for the rest of “Weekend Update.” Bonus.

So that’s a wrap.

What did you think of the finale?  Is SNL in trouble with all these departures? Who will you miss the most? Did Ben Affleck do a good job? Did you like Kanye’s new songs? Let me know in the comment section below.